Son of Alexa. And Echo.

child's play 2019


3.5 Stars  2019/15/87m

“Time to play.”

Director: Lars Klevberg / Writer: Tyler Burton Smith / Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, David Lewis, Ty Consiglio, Beatrice Kitsos, Carlease Burke, Marlon Kazadi, Tim Matheson, Mark Hamill (voice).

Body Count: 8+

Laughter Lines: “Can I just point out that this is how every robot apocalypse scenario begins?”

Despite being about the only major horror franchise that’s stuck neatly to its story arc over seven films, it was only a matter of time before someone remade Child’s Play. It’s Hollywood, nothing is sacred. Jaws is swimming scared.

In defiance of the odds though, the 2019 re-tooling actually launches the series into quite a different direction that the possessed doll that cuts his way through many an adult, cussing merrily as he goes. While not able to necessarily co-exist with its former self in the way, say, the 2009 Star Wars movie did, it’s not like watching somebody overhaul the original and make it all meta n’ shit, it’s a new story with a similar looking doll who goes by the same name and slashes up folks. Thassit.

At a sweatshop factory in Vietnam, a beleaguered worker is fired by his boss, told to complete the Buddi doll he’s working on and GTFO. In a fit of rage, the employee disables the violence and language parameters (curiously all displayed in English on his screen) then throws himself out of a window.

child's lay 2019 buddi chucky

Some time later, the doll is returned to Zed Mart as defective, and young mom Karen decides to gift it to her lonely 13-year-old son Andy, lest it end up in landfill somewhere. Nonplussed by the doll-for-kids, Andy nevertheless plays along and finds that Chucky’s screwy A.I. is quite capable and entertaining: Like a faithful friend, he listens and interacts – his only mission, to ensure Andy’s happiness.

As is the case in all robots-will-destroy-us yarns, Chucky takes everything Andy says literally, starting by trying to choke the family cat after it scratches him. Then when Andy wishes that his mom’s asshole boyfriend Shane would just go away forever, and souped up on the data gathered from witnessing watching Andy and his (human) friends LOL along to Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Chucky deduces violently killing Shane will lead to Andy’s happiness. All the while, Chucky becomes weirder and more attached to Andy, replaying the sounds of the tortured cat at night, and appearing in all sorts of unexpected places, eyes eerily glowing.

child's play 2019 buddi chucky

After a gruesome lawnmower death, Andy and pals are left to try and dispose of some body parts, which inadvertently end up on the shelf of the apartment down the hall where the mother of the requisite cop lives. Chucky is disabled and thrown down the garbage chute, only to be picked up by the building’s perverse custodian, who thinks there’s money to be made from the doll on eBay and so restores it.

More killings occur, and the unveiling of the Buddi 2 range at Zed Mart serves at the battleground for the final showdown, where Chucky’s ability to sync with other devices provides an army of psychotic toys to reap carnage on the midnight shoppers, such as drones with razor sharp propellers and creepy Teddy Ruxpin-like bears that lethally bite patrons.

child's play 2019 chucky buddi

All of the canon films in the Child’s Play series are, to me, decent. The quality is remarkably consistent throughout, with none being awesome nor dogshit. So I’m not too precious about this, though I feared it might’ve been watered down PG-13 stuff given the Stranger Things-stylings chatter that preceded its release. Thus, I was surprised when it turned out to be pretty fucking gory in places, and curiously restrained in others: The lawnmower and table-saw denouements are a gruesome riot, whereas the big finale came across quite dry in comparison.

This would be just fine as a sort of ‘what if’ companion piece to the other films. There’s no real need for a sequel here, I mean, what direction would you even go with? It’s literally a film about a faulty appliance. Return it for an exchange or refund.

Bug Off.

phenomena 1984


2 Stars  1984/18/106m

“Jennifer has a few million close friends. She’s going to need them ALL.”

Also known as: Creepers

Director/Writer: Dario Argento / Writer: Franco Ferrini / Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Daria Nicolodi, Donald Pleasence, Patrick Beachau, Dalila De Lazzaro, Federica Mastroianni, Fiore Argento.

Body Count: 7

My least favourite Argento outing casts Labyrinth‘s Jennifer Connelly as a slightly obnoxious daughter of a Hollywood star, who is sent to a Swiss boarding school, where the prerequisite mystery killer has been spiriting away the young girls.

Ousted because of her connections, Jennifer is also tormented by the other girls when they learn that she has the ability to control insects using her mind. With the help of Pleasence’s entomologist and his trained monkey (!?), she attempts to identify the killer before she becomes the next victim.

As well as this bizarre plot, Phenomena has a habit of changing its mind every few scenes and not bothering to explain itself. The killer’s motive is never revealed there’s a glut of unresolved plotlines and inconsistencies. The usual lush score that grace Dario’s pics has been replaced by nauseating hard rock from the lies of Iron Maiden and Motorhead, thus unbalancing the atmosphere built up by the typically perfect photography.

This may well have been written as it was being filmed, as so many elements turn up in the finale that weren’t even hinted at beforehand, and the psychic-insect thing proves virtually ancillary for the most part. Connelly does the best she can with her jumbled character, but this is a surprisingly weak flick given the talent at work.

Blurbs-of-interest: Argento’s other slashy outings include TenebraeTraumaSleepless, Deep Red, and Opera. Of these, his one-time wife Daria was in Tenebrae and Opera; Donald Pleasence was, of course, Doc Loomis in five of the first six Halloween movies, and also appeared in Alone in the Dark.

Murder House Goes to Camp

american horror story 1984


2.5 Stars  2019/377m

Created by: Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk / Cast: Emma Roberts, Billie Lourd, Leslie Grossman, Cody Fern, Matthew Morrison, Gus Kenworthy, John Carroll Lynch, Angelica Ross, Zach Villa, DeRon Horton, Lily Rabe, Dylan McDermott, Mitch Pileggi, Lou Taylor Pucci.

Body Count: 66-ish

Laughter Lines: “Girls are red, boys are blue. Don’t try to make purple.”

Before being mercifully put out of its (and our) misery, Ryan Murphy’s earlier attempt at a slasher TV show, Scream Queenswas slated to have a season set at a summer camp. However, people ran faster from it than celebrities from a Trump endorsement proposition, and it never came to be. Big spoilers.

In all likelihood, many of those ideas were exported to the far more wide-reaching American Horror Story, for its ninth season. While I only saw the first three seasons of the anthology series before I moved abroad, I heard it was starting to struggle after a while. I picked up at Apocalypse (the eighth year), which I found fine in its own batshit crazy way, and hoped for a good slasher-based yarn in 1984, to be set at a summer camp. YAY.

american horror story 1984

While far from the sledgehammer-to-the-screen inviting disaster that was Scream Queens, 1984 is nevertheless something of a chaotic mess, that plays out like the ideas tank was empty after just a few episodes and so the writers just began tacking on ‘the other massacre’ that occurred even before the previous other one. But wouldn’t someone have already mentioned that?? Apparently not.

In 1970, the janitor at Camp Redwood, CA, slices up the inhabitants of a cabin. Known as Mr Jingles, the loon is put away and the camp is re-opened fourteen years later by the sole survivor, questionably unhinged puritan, Margaret (Grossman). Due to the camp’s rep around those parts, she can only attract a few counsellors, in the shape of a group of friends from LA: wannabe actor Xavier, failed athlete Chet, nice-guy orderly Ray, aerobic instructor Montana, and newbie Brooke (Emma Roberts not doing her acid-tongued schtick for a change), who agrees to go at the last minute, when she’s attacked in her apartment by the Nightstalker serial killer, Richard Ramirez, who swears he’ll track her down. They’re joined there by the activities director Trevor, Nurse Rita, Chef Bertie, and a delirious hippie they accidentally ran over nearby.

american horror story 1984

Being 1984, the entirety of the backdrop is swimming in big hair, spandex, and people saying ‘rad’ a lot. Of course, Mr Jingles escapes his institute on the same day and heads back to camp, arriving at the same time as Richard Ramirez, and the bloodbath is underway pretty damn quickly, with a few intermittent flashbacks to the questionable lives of the counsellors, who have been engaged in hazing accidents, steroid abuse, and wedding day murder-suicides.

That all of this occurred in the first episode, I was concerned 1984 would run out of creative kills and Ghostbusters jokes too soon. The first five episodes are set almost entirely during that first night, and it’s clear (all too soon) that there’s a supernatural element at work, as people who die seem to reappear alive and well. Anyone who remembers the first season, Murder House, will recall that those who haunt said abode died there, and are forever stuck within its walls. Well, Camp Redwood is the same: You die there, you’re stuck there. Although later rules around not being able to leave the camp were thwarted in the very first episode when the hippie character was on the road outside…

american horror story 1984

Things fast forward to 1989 as Brooke, sent down for the murders, faces her death sentence, while Margaret – revealed to be the real culprit – tries to capitalise on her ownership of the place by holding a music festival there with the intention of killing everyone who comes to it (Kajagoogoo are the unfortunate first arrivals). Mr Jingles is forced to abandon martial bliss to return to Redwood to clear his name and end the horror for good. Brooke comes back (after the strangest roller-rink scene, which allegedly makes five years in prison all better). Ramirez comes back. Another killer turns up too.

While things wrap up neatly at the end of episode nine, it couldn’t feel more obvious that whomever was running this show gave up to some degree. Somewhere in the middle, it’s revealed that there was another massacre at the camp in 1950, when Mr Jingles’ mom went berserk after her other son died in the lake, but this goes curiously unmentioned by anyone up to this point. Then, the ‘thirty years later’ arc at the end, Emma Roberts appears absolutely unaltered, with a throwaway line about fillers to excuse the fact a woman who should be in her 50s looks exactly the same as she did in her 20s. Honestly, there’s literally no ageing makeup in sight.

american horror story 1984

Billie Lourd gives a good speech about women being blamed for the violent crimes perpetrated by men, which would be an awesome summary if the sequence of events in 1984 didn’t trace back to the rage of a woman, who then convinces another woman to embark on a killing spree and frame a man for it.

OK enough moaning. There is some fun stuff here, most of it early on in the more Friday the 13th-ey episodes: Brooke’s frantic chase through the camp, the payphone ominously ringing outside in the storm, Shocker‘s Mitch Pileggi as the clinic warden, and the Halloween homage with the lunatics running amok. Trademark bitchy-dialogue from Ryan Murphy’s favourite actresses is somewhat reigned in, but there are some cute gags throughout: “What do people think of the 80s? Did Judd Nelson ever get his Oscar?”

american horror story 1984

In a meta-way, 1984 showcases over nine episodes the kind of deranged chop-and-change effect that killed the at-the-start awesome Glee, when it seemed that those writing the show had a much lower boredom threshold than anybody watching it, so flipped around romantic partners, character motivations, and allegiances on an almost weekly basis. Here, the frenetic “let’s add another killer!”, “let’s add another massacre!” goes way beyond even the worst written slasher films of the 1980s.

Blurbs-of-interest: Roberts and Lourd were in Scream Queens; Roberts was also in Scream 4.

Where’s Buffy when you need her?

the slayer 1981


3 Stars  1982/18/86m

“Is it a nightmare? Or is it… The Slayer?”

A.k.a. Nightmare Island

Director/Writer: J.S. Cardone / Writer: William R. Ewing / Cast: Sarah Kendall, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook, Alan McRae, Michael Holmes.

Body Count: 5

Laughter Lines: “You’re spending too much time alone on these islands. What you need is a companion… A woman! …Or maybe a dog.”

I hated The Slayer when I first saw a dingy old VHS copy in 1999. It was cut, it was slow, it annoyed me. In the intervening years I was always perplexed by the love some people had for it, but continued avoiding a re-watch …until last month and now, look, three stars woo!

Perhaps if it had done a little better at the box office (an edited version ran as a double header with Scalps), there would have been more than a little credit pushed in its direction for it’s proto-Nightmare on Elm Street tendencies, as we’re dealing with a monster that’s dreamed into existence when kooky artist Kay, who dreams and paints the bloody futures of herself, her husband, her brother and his wife.

the slayer 1982 alan mcrae

Taking up an offer of a week at a remote beach house on an uninhabited isle (“it’s surrounded by water!” gorps one of them) from a work friend, the two couples fly in and hike to the sexy homestead. Eric just wants to fish; Brooke wants to sunbathe; and David is worried about Kay’s mental well being. Sucks to be him when he goes to investigate ye olde strange noise coming from the basement and ends up with his head stuck at the center of storm shelter doors, in the film’s most creative demise.

The rest of runtime is dedicated the others looking for him, then trying to summon rescue before they are fishing-lined and pitchforked to death in effectively gruesome ways. The FX work is actually some of the best of its era and were the budget further north, perhaps this could’ve been something of a mini-classic, with nice photography, an unsettlingly secluded locus, and decent performances from the small cast.

the slayer 1982 carol kottenbrook

Those looking for Friday the 13th-type thrills should be warned that this one really takes the concept of slow burn and runs with it slowly. Well, walks with it. Or crawls on all fours with it. Whatever, it’s a slowie.

Blurb-of-interest: J.S. Cardone wrote the Prom Night and Stepfather remakes.

Pay to be Prey

haunt 2019


3.5 Stars  2019/93m

“Some monsters are real.”

Directors/Writers: Scott Beck & Bryan Woods / Cast: Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Lauryn Alisa McClain, Andrew Caldwell, Shazi Raja, Schuyler Helford.

Body Count: 9

The Halloween attraction-gone-homicidal thing has graced us before in the low-end forms of Dark WalkerHauntedWeen, and 2018’s theatrically released Hell Fest, where patrons question just how realistic the scares unfolding in front of them are, until the masked ‘actors’ are bearing down on them, wielding some kind of sharp implement.

Four college girls meet up with a couple of guys and the six of them end up looking for what promises to be the most extreme of haunted house experiences at a warehouse in the middle of nowhere. Downbeat Harper (Stevens) is trying to shake off the experiences of her controlling boyfriend, and the abusive household she grew up in. Nice guy Nathan is into her, and the other four aren’t given a whole lot beyond their names and costumes.

haunt 2019

Having been forced to give up their phones and sign a waiver, the kids are locked inside and begin to work their way through various unsettling passages and traps, watching a witch pull a girl out in a body bag and then skewer her – but it’s all just a stunt right? No, obvs, one of the girls soon disappears and another is injured, prompting the others to begin to question the authenticity of what’s befallen them, and thus split up to find help and/or an exit.

When a ‘helpful’ staff member steps in, the group begins to hope they’re going to escape, but they’re further separated from one another, with the masked staff members hunting them down. We stick largely with Harper as she’s forced into a situation reminiscent of her childhood trauma – one that naturally threatens to freeze her up – and then turn the traps on the assailants with satisfying recompense.

haunt 2019

Eli Roth produced this compact little gem, which carries some echoes of his Hostel flicks, and has some cool sub-Saw trap concepts, but surprisingly holds back on going all out with the gore. A downside is the appearance of that overly familiar bound/gagged-friend-in-a-mask-pushed-into-the-heroine’s-way thing, which is irksome. Things, however, finish with a gratifying bad-ass Home Alone gag that wraps everything up without the requisite threat-is-still-out-there twist for a welcome change.

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